Many years ago I met a Swedish photographer called Gerhard Joren who was passing through Pattaya. Ostensibly he was having a few days holiday, but true photographers do not take holidays – there is always something new to record.
Gerhard has been a pro shooter for many years and in many ways is an example for all weekend photographers with any ambition. He has arrived where he is by learning at the feet of the greatest teacher in the world – experience!
After deciding to be a photographer he did a six week night course in Sweden. He then went to America and talked his way into a job with one of New York’s top professionals. “After two weeks when they found out how much I didn’t know, I was sacked! But I soon got another job after I said I had worked for the first chap.” said Gerhard with a laugh.
In those early years, Gerhard says he took many dreadful photographs – his “worthless images” as he calls them, but he felt an exhibition of these would be beneficial. It could show to people that you can still take good pictures later on – if you persevere. Comparisons can be good at times.
He also believes in the old adage that it takes the same amount of time to take a bad picture as a good one – so you may as well apply yourself and do the best you can.
He had some advice for the amateur photographer, and here it was from the professional himself … “Learn exposure from slide film. Look at other people’s pictures and ask yourself ‘How did they do that’? Thirdly, move in closer but respect your subject.”
Expanding those very important pieces of advice, let’s see what he meant. Taking exposure, yesterday’s print film had a lot of “latitude”. In other words, you didn’t need to get the exposure 100 percent correct to still get a printable image. However, to get the BEST image possible you should expose correctly. Slide film has no latitude, so when you can shoot slides correctly, you will have the best exposures. By the way, for all the digital photographers, slide film was cheap and quick to process – just by asking the lab not to mount them and you could place the strips on a light box and compare all the different exposures side by side. Digital photography is somewhat different, but when you download your photos, call them up on whatever viewing program you use and you can easily pick the differences with half a stop between them. In fact, I bracket three shots with half a stop difference. One of them is always correct.
All photographers should look at others’ work. In fact, when Gerhard and I started chatting we both mentioned J-H Lartigue (those of you with long memories will remember we covered Lartigue’s work a few years ago). Gerhard said that amateurs can learn just by studying photographs and working out how the photographer got that particular image. Was it the time of day? Was it the angle it was shot from? Was it the placement of the people in the shot? Ask and try for yourself.
The last piece of advice you have been given here many times – walk right up and make the subject the “hero”. The main item of interest being too small is the most common reason for photo failures. Be prepared to amputate limbs in the final image, if it strengthens the power of the image.
Gerhard Joren has learned from his own early “worthless images” and was in the process of compiling a book of poignant black and white photographs. I have seen some of them and they are brilliant examples of true photojournalism. “I am the messenger, not the prophet” is Gerhard’s description of his work.
He spends ten months on the road and two months recovering. He has no favorite from the 45 or 50 odd countries he had visited in the past umpteen years.
“I am where my stomach is.” It was a pleasure to break bread with you while in Pattaya, Gerhard!